Chapter 23: “Strengthen Thy Stakes”
During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 287–95
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
As members of the Church, we gather in the stakes of Zion.
Nonmembers sometimes inquire, “What is a stake?” Members likewise inquire, “What is the significance of a stake? What does it mean to us as members?”
To nonmembers, a stake is similar to a diocese in other churches. A stake is a geographical area comprising a number of wards (local congregations) and presided over by a presidency.
To members, the term stake is a symbolic expression. Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground. The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth [see Isaiah 54:2; 3 Nephi 22:2]. That tent was supported by cords fastened to stakes. Those stakes, of course, are various geographical organizations spread out over the earth. Presently Israel is being gathered to the various stakes of Zion.
I must admit, this is the first time I can remember where an entire chapter in a Teachings of Presidents of the Church was dedicated to the topic of the “stake.” Yes, a number of chapters in previous editions have been dedicated to Joseph Smith, baptism, sabbath-keeping, and a variety of other teachings and issues. This chapter from Benson is certain unique from any other book. As this introductory paragraph has explained, a stake in Mormonism is made up of different wards in a geographical region. In the last sentence of this paragraph, Benson intimates that a stake is similiar to how the ancient nation of Israel was organized.
A stake has at least four purposes:
- Each stake, presided over by three high priests, and supported by twelve men known as a high council, becomes a miniature church to the Saints in a specific geographic area. The purpose is to unify and perfect the members who live in those boundaries by extending to them the Church programs, ordinances, and gospel instruction.
- Members of stakes are to be models or standards of righteousness.
- Stakes are to be a defense. The members do this as they unify under their local priesthood officers and consecrate themselves to do their duty and keep their covenants. Those covenants, if kept, become a protection from error, evil, or calamity.
Consider what LDS leaders have taught about making and then keeping the covenants made at baptism, in the temple, and weekly at the sacrament. For the latter, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith said,
I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 2013, p. 100)
Russell M. Nelson, who now is the most senior apostle, said keeping the covenants is most important:
Obedience to the sacred covenants made in temples qualifies us for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to man (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign Special Issue Temples, October 2010, p. 42).
President Spencer W. Kimball said it takes no effort to break a covenant:
One breaks the priesthood covenant by transgressing commandments–but also by leaving undone his duties. Accordingly, to break this covenant one needs only to do nothing (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 497).
Elsewhere, President Ezra Taft Benson taught,
We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 442).
Apostle Robert D. Hales says this promise made by the individual member intially takes place at baptism and continues every following Sunday at the sacrament service:
When we are baptized, we “take upon [us] the name of Christ” and enter “into the covenant with God that [we will] be obedient unto the end of [our] lives.” Each Sunday we renew that baptismal covenant by partaking of the sacrament and witnessing that we are willing to keep the commandments (“If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2014, p. 35).
Based on the teachings of Mormonism’s general authorities, the only way to ”merit” God’s mercy is “keep all the commandments.” Someone may say, “Oh, is that all?” (Sarcasm intended.) Indeed, keeping all of God’s commandments is an impossible task. At this point, another may quip, “That’s what repentance is for!” Yet true repentance only comes when the person is no longer repeating the same sins again. D&C 58:42-43 states,
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
D&C 82:7 says,
And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.
These verses support Spencer W. Kimball’s analysis of the issue:
The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again…The Lord said: “Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.” (D&C 82:7)” (Repentance Brings Forgiveness, an unnumbered tract).
Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, p. 37).
In his preface to modern revelation, the Lord outlined what is one of the most difficult requirements in true repentance. For some it is the hardest part of repentance, because it puts one on guard for the remainder of his life. The Lord says: “… I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” (D&C 1:31–32. Italics added.) This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, p. 43. Ellipsis and italics in original).
George Q. Cannon a member of the First Presidency, said,
When I say repent, I mean a complete forsaking of sin, and turning from it truly and sincerely; in no other way can mankind escape the judgments and calamities threatened, and of which they are warned (July 14, 1872, Journal of Discourses 15:113).
Hugh G. Brown explained,
When we speak of the continual need of repentance, let it not be understood that we refer to a cycle of sinning and repenting and sinning again. That is not complete repentance. We must see the right and follow it, recognize the wrong and forsake it with a “Godly sorrow” if we would obtain the blessings of complete repentance (Cited in Young Women Manual 1, Lesson 22: Repentance (2002), p. 99).
Church manuals also agree with these procedures:
8. He removes our sins if we keep his commandments (Uniform System for Teaching Investigators, 1961, p. 55).
10. We repent by no longer sinning (Uniform System for Teaching Investigators, 1961, p. 55).
The manuals state it like Mormonism says it is:
Doctrine and Covenants 82:7. We are commanded to forsake sin. If we sin again after repenting, our former sins return. (5–10 minutes) Bring several rocks to class that are all labeled with the same sin (for example, breaking the Word of Wisdom). Tell students a story about an imaginary person who commits this sin. Invent details to embellish your story. Each time the imaginary person commits the sin, pick up a rock, until you are holding several of them. Set all the rocks you are holding aside and ask: • What might setting the rocks aside represent? (Repentance.) • What happens to our sins when we repent? (The Lord forgives them.) Read Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 and look for what happens when we sin again. Ask: • How many rocks would a person need to pick up if he sins after repenting? (All that you were previously holding plus a new one.) • Why do you think our former sins return? • What does that teach you about the importance of forsaking sin? • How can knowing this doctrine help you avoid sin? (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, 2001, p. 134. Bold in original).
D&C 58:42–43. The Lord Promises Complete Forgiveness to Those Who Truly Repent. The Lord forgives those who truly repent of their sins. This blessing comes through the Atonement of Christ, who ‘suffered … for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent’ (D&C 19:16). The Lord promises that He will no more remember the sins of those who repent (see Ezekiel 18:21– 22). Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324)
However, such concepts are antithetical to everything the Bible and Gospel of Grace stands for. According to the Bible, forgiveness for sins is available as a free gift—besides belief, there is nothing a person must do. So we can either choose the gospel according to Mormonism or we can choose the gospel according to historical Christianity. For the Mormon presentation, let’s hear what Apostle David Bednar has to say:
Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use to construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His Atonement. We are connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those sacred commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. And that bond is the source of spiritual strength and stability in all of the seasons of our lives. We can be blessed to hush our fears as we firmly establish our desires and deeds upon the sure foundation of the Savior through ordinances and covenants (“Therefore They Hushed Their Fears,” Ensign, May 2015 (Conference Edition), p. 48).
According to the version of Mormonism as described by Bednar, “we are connected securely to and with the Savior” by receiving ordinances and entering into covenants. Let’s face it, it’s impossible to keep these covenants as proposed by Mormonism. This doesn’t mean the commandments are unnecessary or unhelpful. According to Romans 3:20, the law informs us that we are inadequate to merit God’s mercy. It says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Verses 21-31 to on to explain the biblical way of obtaining forgiveness of sins:
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
There is no clearer explanation of the biblical view of obtaining God’s righteousness than the words from this passage. Only when we understand that true salvation is not somehow obtained by being good enough do we grasp the essence of the Gospel of Grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 say,
For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Other verses reiterate that it is by faith, not by works, that allows a person to know God:
Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Acts 16:31: “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Romans 10:9-10: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
It is assurance of salvation that God intends for each believer to have. As 1 John 5:13 states,
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
If you’re a Latter-day Saint, don’t you realize the impossibility of keeping the covenants you make on a weekly basis? If you do understand this, then why do you continue to make promises that you know, deep down inside, you will never be able to keep?
We build temples only where we have stakes. The blessings and ordinances of the temple prepare one for exaltation. Of course, it is not possible for every stake to have a temple, but we are presently witnessing some remarkable, yes, miraculous developments, in the building of temples in different parts of the world. Such a program permits members of the Church to receive the full blessings of the Lord.
There are several problems with the line of reasoning provided by Benson:
- In biblical times, the temple was a place dedicated to the slaughter of animal sacrifices. Each animal was considered to be a temporary sin-covering for the person making the sacrifice.
- There was only one temple, which was in Jerusalem. There were no exceptions. All other temples were considered illegitimate. Hence, when Mormons build “temples” (plural), one has to ask why multiple buildings are used? If it’s for the convenience of the members, this is not a valid reason.
- Those priests who presided over the temple were those hailing from the tribe of Levi. Nobody else was allowed to provide service.
Bear with me, but allow me to quote the second half of Hebrews chapter 9 to explain how Jesus—who earlier in the book is called a priest after the order of Melchizedek—became the enforcer of the new covenant through His death on the cross:
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. 16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
As for me, I’d much rather rest my hope in Jesus and in His accomplishments than whatever I am capable of doing–usually, it’s fouling things up rather than making things better. As much as I want to do the right thing, I usually feel like Paul in Romans 5:
8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is goodto bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
These verses are in stark contrast to the gopsel as offered by the Mormon Church.
In His preface to His revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord warned: “The day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion” [Doctrine and Covenants 1:35].
Only in Jesus can there be hope and a peace that, as Philippians 4:7 puts it, passes all understanding.
Today … we see the fulfillment of this prediction where Satan, in undiminished fury, is displaying power over “his own dominion”—the earth. Never has his influence been so great, and only those who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide—and followed counsel from priesthood leaders—will be spared from the havoc of his evil influence.
I would agree that only those who have the Holy Spirit can be protected from Satan. The question is, how can a Mormon know if he or she has the Holy Spirit? It’s only when he or she is keeping all the covenants by obeying all the commandments.
Gathering with fellow Saints, we see that a stake can “be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm” (D&C 115:6).
Fellowship with other believers is very important for the Christian. Of this there is no doubt. But the ultimate refuge for a Christian believer is God Himself. Both God (Ps. 57:1b) and Jesus (Matt. 23:37) are referred to “mother hens.” We can find refuge with God whenever we go through the storms offered by life.
Through revelation we know that there will be perils, calamities, and persecution in the latter days, but through righteousness the Saints may be spared. The promise of the Lord in the Book of Mormon is sure: “He will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Nephi 22:17.)
The question is, can a Latter-day Saint be good enough in order to be considered “righteous”? I conclude this article with this wonderful hymn by Edward Mote:
- My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
- When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
- His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
- When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
For a YouTube offering a beautiful modern-day rendition of this hymn click here. While you listen to this, ask yourself: Am I willing to give up and rest on His unchanging grace? Click 10 reasons why a person ought to consider becoming a Christian